By Braden Schroeder
Day in and day out. Every year and every season, they all know it is coming.
With a 65-42 loss to New Albany in early December and a 59-41 win over Providence the week after, one team remains out of the “big three” of rivals FC faces each season.
Traveling to Johnson Arena tonight, FC will face the Jeffersonville Red Devils and complete the trio of this season’s rivalry games, in which they are 1-1.
“We talk about rivalries and it’s not what the coach wants to make it. It’s the fans, the players and the community — what they consider to be a rivalry. Obviously proximity plays a big role in that. With Jeffersonville and New Albany, they are in our conference and our sectional,” said FC head coach Todd Sturgeon.
After knocking off No. 6 ranked Castle on Saturday, the team looks to carry that momentum into tonight.
“It was a big win against a very good team, so that got the ball rolling again for us. We’re going to work hard in practice this week to prepare for a good Jeff team on Friday,” said junior Gabe Shireman, who hit the game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer that propelled the Highlanders to a 63-61 win.
Shireman, who had four 3-pointers in the JV game and three more in the varsity game, was a part of the bench scoring that helped FC on Saturday. Sophomore Cobie Barnes said this is something the team can carry with them throughout the remainder of the season.
“It’s really important because if everyone is going, then I feel like we’re pretty hard to stop. With us you never know who is going to have a big impact and it is great whenever people on our bench have a big impact,” said Barnes.
According to Shireman, whether it is playing on the court or talking on the bench, everyone on the team is always trying to contribute.
“It starts on the bench just talking and being engaged, so when we do get in the game we are more aware. Coming off the bench we just give 100 percent effort and try to make hustle plays that will get the team going,” he said. “That may mean playing really good defense or diving for a loose ball. Just whatever it takes to spark something.”
Being involved on the bench allows the players to come into the game feeling as if they have been playing the whole time.
“The fact that Gabe and the others have embraced that role is encouraging. We talk to them about how staying mentally engaged when you’re not in the game is critical. If you’re doing that then you’re mentally wired into the game, so when they come in it’s not like they have been sitting back in a cocoon,” said Sturgeon.
Sitting at 0-1 right now in the Hoosier Hills Conference, the Highlanders go into the game facing a Jeffersonville team that is 2-1 in the HHC and understands the importance of conference play.
“We take pride in competing in our conference and set a goal to win it each year. Friday is very important for us to find a way to win to stay at the top of the conference,” said Jeffersonville head coach Joe Luce.
Coming off of a 67-56 loss to New Albany last Friday night and a win over Louisville Manual on Saturday, the Red Devils look to carry all the excitement from last week into tonight.
“We expect our team to be ready for another great weekend of basketball. I felt like we handled the games well last week and expect nothing different this weekend,” said Luce.
On Saturday, the Red Devils shot over 50 percent as junior Bailey Falkenstein put up 36 points in the 83-63 win against Louisville Manual. This consistent shooting is exactly what Luce said the team is aiming for.
“The biggest piece of this success is that we have players taking shots from the spots and within our offense that they make. Bailey has done a great job for us all season, but played particularly well Saturday. I expect both our team and Bailey to continue their success by keeping a level head and continuing to take shots they make consistently,” he said.
Having experienced what it is like to play on the road and at home in a rivalry game, Barnes said that the team will have adapted by the time 7 p.m. rolls around.
“One of the things I think we can take into Jeff on Friday night is that [we have played] at a hostile environment like New Albany. We’re more prepared and will come out a lot stronger from the jump ball.”
Whether the game is at home or on the road a loyal student section, the Kilt Krew, follows the Highlander team. Backing them with continued support is an act Sturgeon said he and the team appreciate, especially since student fans “have joined in and have played really important roles in creating some excitement. They have gone to road games and here at home.”
Tonight, the Kilt Krew’s theme is “parent-teacher conference,” based off of the Twitter account @TotalDadMoves.
“Students dress like sterotypical moms and dads. We wanted to do something new and fun to mix up the themes and not do the same basic themes as other schools,” said senior Reed Plunkett.
Kilt Krew members feel that they have distinguished themselves from other schools’ student sections and have found unique school spirit within FC.
“We’ve worked together along with administration to do the little things to help the student section be better at games. We worked harder this year to distance our section from other schools by having a better student atmosphere, a presence on social media, better themes and more overall participation from the whole school. We have so many students this year who love sports and have been showing out at more sporting events than ever before,” said Plunkett.
Despite all the factors leading up to tonight’s game, it marks the start of a crucial point in the season for the Highlanders and will begin to define the identity of the team.
“The last couple of weeks everybody is excited. Going into the finish line we’re trying to make a point of like ‘let’s get in here and work on our game’ and if we all just get a little bit better in two or three different things over the next few weeks then that will have a big impact on our season,” said Sturgeon. “I don’t think we have fully tapped what this team is capable of, and we’re trying to communicate that to our team.”
Follow @Bagpiper_Sports on Twitter for live updates from tonight’s 7:30 p.m. game at Jeffersonville and continue to check The Bagpiper website for coverage throughout the weekend.
Rivalry over the past five seasons:
2015-2016: Jeffersonville 57, Floyd Central 54
2014-2015: Floyd Central 64, Jeffersonville 54
2013-2014: Floyd Central 71, Jeffersonville 70
2012-2013: Jeffersonville 59, Floyd Central 39
2011-2012: Jeffersonville 51, Floyd Central 42